Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Shinnecock security guards going to extremes on Westwoods property


Trustees continue to investigate beach access issue
By Vera Chinese

Southampton Village resident Timothy Corwin is still awaiting an explanation as to why he was accosted—and allegedly threatened—by a security guard for the Shinnecock Indian Nation while walking along the beach last summer on the tribe’s Westwoods property, which overlooks Peconic Bay in Hampton Bays.

“They said they had the authority to drop me where I stood,” Mr. Corwin, who later reported the incident to the New York State Police and Southampton Town Trustees, said of the lone security guard. “I would take that as a physical threat, but I didn’t see any point in getting into fisticuffs with the guy.”

According to Mr. Corwin, he was walking on the beach below the high water mark—an area that is traditionally governed by the Southampton Town Trustees, in accordance with the Dongan Patent, and accessible to all town residents.

Mr. Corwin’s encounter was not an isolated incident. Last month, four people were injured in a brawl after authorities said two Shinnecock tribe members approached a group of young adults who were hanging out on the beach along the Westwoods property. State Police said the fight started after the two Shinnecocks told group members that they were trespassing on tribal property. One of the victims had to be airlifted to the hospital after being hit in the head with an unidentified object, and two other men suffered injuries after they were swatted with burning logs from a nearby bonfire. One of the Shinnecocks suffered a broken wrist during the melee, police said...

Undermining that argument is a ruling last year by U.S. District Court Judge Joseph F. Bianco. He determined that the Westwoods property, which is located north of Newtown Road, cannot be considered sovereign tribal land. In his October 2007 ruling, Judge Bianco said the land cannot be sovereign because the tribe had relinquished its ownership for a time in the 1600s. Therefore, the judge said, a gaming facility cannot be built on the property once the Shinnecocks receive federal recognition.

According to the 130-page ruling, the Westwoods property is not exempt from Southampton Town zoning laws and must comply with residential zoning. That would mean that Southampton Town residents are allowed to be on the beach, below the high water mark, as is true throughout the town. If this is the case, then the Shinnecocks would not be within their rights to block people from walking below the high water mark... (
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